“I will restore your leaders as in days of old,
your rulers as at the beginning.
Afterward you will be called
the City of Righteousness,
the Faithful City.” — Isaiah 1:26
The Torah portion for this week is Devarim which means “words,” from Deuteronomy 1:1–3:22, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 1:1–27.
Imagine that somehow we were mistakenly locked up in jail for a long time and couldn’t get out. Then suddenly, someone bails us out. Moreover that same person now invites us to stay in his own beautiful house and to make ourselves at home. We are welcome to stay in his home as long as we like, as long as we follow some basic house rules. That doesn’t sound too difficult, does it?
Now imagine that our host leaves and comes back to discover that we have broken every single one of his rules. We also have brought some really evil people into his home and damaged the property badly. Our host is beside himself and says, “How could you do this? I freed you from jail, gave you a beautiful home to live in, and all I asked of you was to behave decently. But what did you do? You destroyed it. I have no other option but to kick you out. You have ruined it, and I will now have to tear my house down and rebuild it.”
This is essentially the story told in this week’s Haftorah portion taken from the book of Isaiah. It is the story of the children of Israel and God. In the Torah reading, we reviewed the story of how God freed the people from bondage in Egypt and brought them to a beautiful home in Israel. But in the Haftorah, centuries later, we discover that the Israelites have abused their home. God has no choice but to kick them out, tear down His Temple, and rebuild from scratch.
However, this is where the similarities end. Because in our made-up story, it’s unlikely that our kind benefactor and host would ever let us back into his home again. However, God is not like that. The Haftorah reading ends with God’s promise to restore the children of Israel to their land. He even declares that the city they had once demolished through immoral behavior and sinfulness will become a “City of Righteousness.” God believes that we can, and we will, change for the good, no matter what we may have done in the past.
Rabbi Nachman, an eighteenth century scholar, used to say, “If you believe you can damage, then believe you can fix.” Sometimes, we get so bogged down by our mistakes, that we lose faith in ourselves. But God never does. God has full faith in us. Shouldn’t we, too?
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President